Around the Clock with AIGA San Diego – Karen Morrison

Learn what AIGA San Diego board members are up to: from special projects to creative hobbies, to how they give back and find inspiration in their work life. Follow along on this series to get to know your community leaders.

A Game Changer

For decades, kids and adults alike have surrendered wholly to the thrill of jiggling a joystick for hours on end, all in the hope of making it to the next level of a video game. In such moments, the internal narrative often is the same. “If only I could play video games for a living.”

Dude, guess what? Karen Morrison does. As the communications and outreach lead at indie game publisher Crytivo, Morrison works in marketing and project management for the company. In her role, she plays video games to evaluate potential partners, develops and sends email initiatives and coordinates social media content.

In her free time, Morrison leads AIGA San Diego’s LINK program for underserved teens—one of only two national programs offered by AIGA. But she was lured to game development by her affinity for story-driven games like Night in the Woods and The Witcher 3. While the video game industry is relatively young, predominantly male, and growing rapidly, Morrison embraces the opportunity to pave the way for others in the industry, with laser focus on women.

A longtime graphic designer and freelance photographer, Morrison sees similarities between graphic design and game development. Both involve creativity, innovation, and collaboration, the very things that Morrison lives for. Just as graphic design requires close consideration of a client’s needs, game development focuses on the user experience.

“You’re trying to make this fun experience for somebody else, and that means visualizing their experience from beginning to end,” Morrison says. “You’re creating a packaged journey for them. You could be making a narrative adventure game or a puzzle game, something altogether interactive. What defines it is up to you as the designer. It’s a super freeing and very collaborative medium that I enjoy.”

Morrison thrives on creative problem solving and collaboration, and she loves using her skills on behalf of the indie development teams she serves. Working with Crytivo’s partners, helping them bring their dreams to life, is empowering. “It’s like every partner is a fire, and we’re just a little bit of gasoline to help amplify their game,” she says.

In the industry, game development is compared to building a rocket ship as it’s taking off. Morrison’s own career at Crytivo launched through her board involvement in the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Morrison has served on IGDA’s board for the last year, helping to assemble a game design panel for San Diego Design Week this past September. And in collaborating on a recent Zoom mixer, she realized just how many industry connections she has. Some of those connections led her to her job at Crytivo.

But Morrison’s biggest breakthrough into the game development industry came in the form of a scholarship she received through the International Game Developers Association Foundation (IGDAF). The foundation is an offshoot of the IGDA but is not otherwise connected. Nevertheless, in January, Morrison was a awarded the IGDAF scholarship for “marginalized genders” (women, non-binary, trans). At long last, it helped her break into the game world.

The foundation launched specifically as a vehicle to help bring women like Morrison into the field, and she’s quickly established her place in it. As a kid, she enjoyed playing video games such as Earthworm Jim, Mario 3, and Sega’s The Lion King. But it never occurred to her that this could be her job. Now, her career is coming full circle. 

“I want to see where this goes,” she says. “I love the idea of having more game development in San Diego, and I’m really happy to be part of this movement.”

Board Member Spotlight

Karen Morrison, LINK Director

What is your role within AIGA San Diego?

I’m director of AIGA’s LINK program, a nonprofit that provides free art and design workshops to underserved teens in San Diego.

What kind of art do teens create in the LINK program?

We make things like 3-D clay models, illustrations, character design comic books, things that help them develop their design skills. Graphic design lies at the heart of it, but it’s more focused on design thinking than just traditional graphic design.

As director of the LINK program, what do you hope to achieve?

Being a part of this program is by far the most rewarding thing I do. We want kids to go into a field where they can actually get jobs, so I strive to lead them in the right direction and help them develop marketable skills. You don’t realize how much of what you say to a teenager sticks, so if you can give them worthwhile advice, it can empower them and really have an impact.

What do you do for fun?

I hang out with my husband and cat, play games, or work on my own game projects.

Which issues are most important to you?

There are a lot of issues I care deeply about, but if I had to pick one I would say education. To me, a lot of the turmoil in society could be calmed with access to better education.

Beth Geraci is a content strategist who writes for architecture and design firms by day and crafts her memoir by night. Life After Lamictal chronicles Beth’s experience on (and off) the epilepsy drug. She’s a board member for AIGA San Diego and provides organizational support for the San Diego Architectural Foundation.

Photography provided by Karen Morrison.

By AIGA San Diego Tijuana
Published January 22, 2021